hidden gems

When I was a kid of about ten or eleven, I knew something that my cousins didn’t. I knew that my Grandma Myrtle would often set her fancy holiday table days before the actual event. I was privy to this insider information because out of nine grandkids, my brother and I were the only two who came from out of town. So unlike our cousins, we’d generally arrive at Grandma’s house a few days prior to any holiday. And almost always, we’d race in to find the table expanded to full capacity and set with her fine china. I always thought this was funny and sort of strange. Didn’t she have anything better to do, I wondered?

Well. Bite my tongue. Having just hosted my first ever, full blown Thanksgiving – I’m here to tell you that it turns out Grandma did have something better to do. Like maybe the prep work for a big ol’ roast turkey, a half dozen sides, and a couple of deserts. Oh, and she might have spent some time tidying the house and making sure there were clean sheets for the company. I wasn’t far into my own holiday preparations before I decided to take a page from Myrtle’s book and get the table set. Clearly she was onto something.
thanksgiving table
My table wasn’t as fancy as Grandma’s, but it got the job done. Butcher paper and crayons stood in for a long table cloth that I don’t own. Simple fall fruits and pinecones took the place of a flower arrangement. And my Grandma Marjorie’s china got a long-awaited reviaval. When my two nieces burst into my kitchen on Wednesday, I chuckled and gave a nod to Myrtle after they realized the table wasn’t set for that night’s meal. “Wait,” one of them asked incredulously, “This is for tomorrow?” I assured them that someday they’d understand. And then I told them about their great Grandma Myrtle.
Overall my inaugural Thanksgiving hosting went pretty well. My family was very forgiving of all my racing around. And they didn’t even mention that flash freezing my Parker House rolls after their final rise didn’t exactly work. There were a few things I would do differently in the kitchen next time, but by in large, it was a perfect holiday. There was good old-fashioned charades, custom made word-finds, and scavenger hunts. We even managed to get out and run the Chequamgon Bay 5k Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.
We did, of course, find plenty of time to eat between all these activities. On the food front, I’d say there were two hidden gems. One was the surprise “banana tower” that my niece Evie constructed for us the morning after our big feast. It is as straightforward as it sounds – a raging tower of banana pieces. But we all agreed that the bananas were perfectly ripe. And plucking them off the tower one by one was especially gratifying.
The other star was a simple appetizer that really held its own, even against our succulent heritage turkey with bacon-herb butter stuffed under it’s skin. Keeping with the bacon theme, I knew I wanted to do a bacon wrapped something for a pre-meal tidbit. For the kids I decided I couldn’t go wrong with pineapple chunks wrapped in bacon. And for the adults, I found an old Gourmet recipe that fit what I was after perfectly. Bacon wrapped Parmesan-stuffed dates. Each bite offers a mini explosion of smokey, salty, and sweet. They’re satisfying without being overly rich and pair nicely with a glass of wine. And they are a cinch to make. On a whim I gave both the kid and adult versions a light drizzle of honey before popping them in the oven. Because what isn’t made better by a light drizzle of honey? Hope you all had a holiday that was sweet and cozy.
stuffed date
Bacon Wrapped Parmesan-Stuffed Dates
(Adapted from Gourmet)

12 Medjool dates
12 matchstick size pieces of Parmesan (about 1-inch by 1/8-inch)
4 bacon slices, raw – cut into thirds

Make a slit in each date with a paring knife and remove the pit. Stuff one piece of cheese into each date through the same slit. Wrap each date with a third piece of bacon, covering the slit, and securing with a toothpick. Arrange assembled dates on a baking sheet and drizzle very lightly with honey. Bake in a 425º F oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp. Drain on a paper towel and serve warm. Serves about 6.

turkey sketch

12 Responses to “hidden gems”

  1. 1 Julie Buckles November 27, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Hurrah for savvy Grandma Myrtle. Love the table setting. Congrats on surviving your first Thanksgiving.

  2. 2 Anne Fischer November 27, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    My first thanksgiving dinner, my rolls turned out so tough that the guys decided to go out into the yard and play catch with them. I really got the art of breakmaking down after that and I kept it a secret whether we were or were not even having roles.
    Anne Fischer

  3. 4 Anne-Marie November 27, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    I set the table ahead, too. I’m honored to be in the good company of your Grandma Myrtle! Your first Thanksgiving sounds fun and tasty. I need to try the appetizer.

  4. 5 Cari Templeton November 28, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Yum! So glad you survived and enjoyed your first Thanksgiving at your new place. Can’t wait to see it in person.

  5. 6 Ella Bella November 29, 2012 at 11:51 am

    I’m pleased to be in the company of Grandma Myrtle. Perhaps I’m in the age group that always knew to set the table ahead. It was fun to read Jill and picture your family at Thanksgiving; a nice visual.

  6. 7 Ann December 1, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    I learned that table setting trick from Dory. You can always keep cooking once the guests arrive, but if the table is set your guests feel warm and welcome when they walk in the door.

  7. 9 Demaris Brinton December 2, 2012 at 10:15 am

    What a great post Jill! I always enjoy your writing style. It invites you right into the scene so you can fully imagine what it’s like to be there and it’s always some place I’d like to be. I also always set the table ahead. It’s what I do best…now if I could just get someone to cook the meal, I’d be set myself!

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